THE award of the Nobel peace prize to Professor Joseph Rotblat, a man who has spent the past half century trying to ban the bomb, will not be universally applauded. It has caused irritation in Paris among right-wing supporters of France's nuclear weapons testing programme, and it can be safely assumed that it will not have pleased the military establishment in Beijing. To its credit, the French Government has congratulated the prize-winner. But the Chinese Government has so far failed to react, marking the award with a short, factual news item by Xinhua (the New China News Agency). But prize committee president Francis Sejerstad explicitly mentioned the nuclear tests as the reason for giving the award to the 86-year-old nuclear physicist and the anti-nuclear Pugwash Conferences organisation he helped found. Neither France nor China can be under any illusion that the decision was not a criticism of them. Both countries' nuclear programmes have aroused international anger. The prize committee has articulated this anti-nuclear message loud and clear. No one would seriously pretend that the award of the Nobel peace prize was an apolitical act. The search for peace and the promotion of peaceful co-existence are necessarily political goals. So, inevitably, the choice of a peace prize laureate must be a statement of the political position of the prize committee, and, as is the way in politics, will be deeply offensive to those who do not share the same world view. One man's peacemaker is another man's terrorist or traitor. An opponent of weapons of mass destruction is, to those with the power to deploy them, a misguided idealist at best. At worst, he is a saboteur undermining national or international security. Perhaps because the committee knows this, it has chosen in recent years to make awards it knows will be provocative. There is no way to avoid controversy, so it might as well be courted. But the committee can and should continue doing this. A test ban is in the interests of peace. China has attacked Nobel prizes before, and could do so again. But much as Beijing may bridle at what it will perceive as an interference in its internal affairs, it should not be in any doubt that the Nobel committee is doing the right thing. Nuclear powers will not be pleased. Despite their commitment to work towards a test-ban treaty, all are looking for ways to keep testing smaller devices and maintain a technological edge. But the majority of world opinion is unequivocally on the side of the Nobel committee. Whatever the strategic, technological or nationalistic arguments adduced by supporters of nuclear testing (and they exist well beyond the borders of China and France), public opinion is against it. The public understands there is a moral issue at stake here and will not be fobbed off with explanations of military need. But although that gut-feeling is shared by millions of ordinary people across the globe, it still requires spokesmen of the calibre of Professor Rotblat to give it expression. Governments may be in a better position to push a test-ban through. Australia has led the protests against French nuclear testing in the South Pacific. Japan, the only nation ever to have suffered an attack by nuclear weapons, has cut aid to Beijing in anger at China's continued experiments at its test site in the Lop Nor desert. But governments make diplomatic compromises as well as big political gestures. Today's campaign-leaders may be signing toothless agreements tomorrow. It takes a man like Professor Rotblat, one of the fathers of the bomb he later repudiated, to work tirelessly on our behalf. The Pugwash Conferences derive their name from the village in Nova Scotia, Canada, which in 1957 hosted the first of a series of discreet, informal meetings by top scientists to discuss the arms race. They took their cue from a declaration made two years earlier by a group of scientists and thinkers including, among others, Professor Rotblat, Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein. They posed a stark choice: 'Shall we put an end to mankind,' they asked, 'or shall we renounce war?'. The Nobel peace prize committee has only now come round to honouring them for putting that question. Half a century after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it is certainly not too soon to be putting the nuclear powers on the spot.